Disaster recovery and outsourcing are intimately related. The Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 destroyed much of California’s highway system, including the bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco. It took years for the highways to be rebuilt. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of workers who could not go to their work sites looked for alternatives. The alternative, at least if you were a knowledge worker, was to use what was then an emerging form of software, the remote access application. These applications started out ass very limited and narrowly based, and now they are just about everywhere, empowering all sorts of work functions. How did we go from disasters to outsourcing? Let’s read on and see!
More so than anywhere else in the US, California was designed around the automobile. Californian’s love their cars and the state, especially the highway system, is built around this love affair. But the love of the auto creates a vulnerability. What if something happens to your car or the roads? In the 70s, the oil embargo hit California hard, making it difficult to drive back and forth between home and work. It was the ’89 earthquake that created an entirely new kind of disaster. In other states, an earthquake might crack a section of road making it difficult to travel over at full speed, or it might drop boulders off of a hill and onto the road, requiring heavy equipment to clear the way. The complex highway system in California different. In California, they didn’t build a simple roadway, there are many elevated sections, clover leaf “fly overs," under and over passes and other sophisticated engineered features. If just a foot or two of elevated highway collapses, the next few miles become inaccessible. Even the apparently undamaged sections were closed for years so that they could be fully examined and damaged, but still standing, sections torn down. Unlike the oil embargo more than a decade earlier, when this earthquake came many Californians had computers at home and access to (relatively) inexpensive modems to connect them to the office.
Today, we take it for granted that we can have remote access to our computers or our data. When the highways fell, knowledge workers… from sales staff, to lawyers, to researchers, to writers… were isolated at home, but had a sense that they could somehow use a computer to do their work and a modem to send data back and forth. Initially this was just potential. Some IT workers used early products to remotely monitor and maintain networks and mainframe computers. Hundreds of thousands of workers started to use these products, and the influx of new customers caused the products to rapidly evolve, and to develop more features. Today, we have a universe of products that not only allow you to remotely access a computer in your office, it also allows you to host virtual conferences and video chats and other functions that simulate a true virtual office.
If it wasn’t for remote access software, most of the outsourcing that exists today would not have been possible. Prior to the arrival of this class of software, there were dedicated corporate remote conference system, but they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and were meant to link one office to another, so that just a handful of locations would be connected. The ability to link thousands of individuals inexpensively meant that even after the highways in California were back up, not every worker needed to (or wanted to) go return to a commute to work. Not coincidentally, the rise of Knowledge Based Outsourcing (KPO) happened while remote access applications were maturing. Remote access features, plus basic email, allowed work to be transferred to nearshore and offshore locations. Virtual office features provided the tools that global outsourcers needed to tie together their offices around the world and act as a single firm.
These products continued to evolve in the 21st Century. Remote access from your home to your office soon became access from wherever you are to your data, and Cloud Services took off. Almost every Cloud service evolved out of an earlier remote access product. The market is rapidly moving from reliable tools that let you build connections to data and to virtual offices, to specific commercial services that focus on making content (documents, bank information, photos, music, etc.) functional while hiding all of the technical complexity. In the wake of hurricane Sandy, many disaster recovery plans will need to be rewritten and expanded. As you write your 1st or next generation disaster recovery plan, make room for remote access software and Cloud services. They won’t be your entire plan, but if they are at the core of your plan these products will help you to create a more robust and more cost effective plan.